Proof that election coverage is best left to the experts

The Will Self affair shouldn’t be allowed to fade into a media legend without asking a basic question. Should he have been on the election trail, let alone the Prime Minister’s plane in the first place?

The Will Self affair shouldn’t be allowed to fade into a media

legend without asking a basic question. Should he have been on the

election trail, let alone the Prime Minister’s plane in the first

place?



And if he was in the wrong place doing the wrong thing, who was at

fault?



Will Self or Will Hutton?



In other words, what were the editor and senior executives at the

Observer doing in pitching him, of all people, into the fray. Doesn’t it

raise some pretty basic questions about how broadsheets cover the

election when colour writers are despatched willy nilly, on such vague

missions?



They are expected to produce entertaining copy for jaded readers in

difficult conditions, even if they have scant journalistic

qualifications for the task in hand.



It is not just an Observer trait. AA Gill, the Sunday Times columnist

has been at it too, reporting off-the-record comments apparently made to

him by John Prescott.



Only one problem: he’s been swatted into place since no note or tape

could be produced and Prescott said he was wrong. Does that spat enhance

the Sunday Times’ reputation for accuracy? Last Sunday he reported from

Major’s campaign trail in Cornwall: St Michael’s Mount was shimmering

like a mirage which pretty well sums up the value of his observations,

while his TV column, at which he often excels, was filled by another.

The Daily Telegraph has hired playwright David Hare: his columns sit

like interlopers on its pages.



In justifying Self’s departure, the Observer produced a series of

high-faluting arguments to cover its liberal reputation. Drug use was a

personal matter ’although we regard taking drugs on the Prime Minister’s

plane as seriously as anyone else’. But its basic point was that Self

had broken ’the key relationship of trust’ by repeatedly lying over the

incident.



It’s far simpler: the Observer sells itself as a serious paper. Will

Self is a casualty of its muddle and misjudgement. Worse, he used to

write a wickedly entertaining restaurant column and that is lost

too.



I hope, once 1 May is past, that all media, including broadsheet

newspapers and the BBC, analyse how they covered the election and why

they often failed to connect with their audience. Coverage has been

surprisingly unsophisticated in the main, as broadsheets have opted for

mammoth supplements: not so different from gardeners who judge

vegetables on size. Never have so many journalists and good writers been

pitched senselessly into battle, producing thousands of words or

pre-prepared packages which have gone unread or unwatched.



The value of being succinct should be reassessed. Far better to focus

attention on a smaller number of commentators who command respect

because they know what they are talking about. Seasoned political

journalists ought to be cheering as they reoccupy the field.



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